I recently had the great honor of being asked by my sister to perform her wedding ceremony. I’m not an ordained clergyperson, but that’s the sort of request that one just does not deny, and I remain so moved to have been asked.
At about the time this post goes live, the ceremony will be underway and, depending upon the timing, you might be reading this just about the same time that I’m saying these words to the gathered witnesses. Regardless of when you read them, here are the words I will speak, am speaking or have spoken for her homily:
“A few minutes ago, you heard a reading from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a verse that’s often selected for weddings, being about love and all, but it’s worth considering what’s going on in the whole passage.
The passage begins with ‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’
The scriptures here tell us that love must be the foundation of meaningful action; all action not based in love is ultimately fruitless and forgettable. Your successes do not matter; your failures do not matter; but your love, your love matters. Why?
Because the purpose and foundation of existence itself is relationship with God, with one another, and Creation. So important is this to our Creator that 1 John 4:7 and 8 tell us that ‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…God is love.’
Jesus often uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between the church—as the body of believers—and the divine. The marriage relationship, the facing of life together where two people put their partner’s needs before their own, that’s the closest human relationship that exists to the relationship that God seeks with each of us.
The passage in Corinthians ends, ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ Faith, hope and love are so closely bound together as to be almost inseparable. Hope is the joy and peace stretching into the boundless future that comes from faith in the absolute love of another for us. This is the message of the gospel, but it’s also the foundation of marriage. A successful marriage must be founded upon those three: faith, hope and love.
That’s much easier said than done. Marriage is not always easy; it’s the careful fusion that makes two one but also retains and respects the individuality of both members. Here’s the paradox: you two love one another because of who you individually are, but your marriage is a promise to so bind yourselves together that you, for many purposes, are one. Sometimes, there will be a struggle between your own individuality and the needs or best interests of the marriage. That’s where you’ll need faith, hope, and love.
When I talked about the three above, I hope that I made it clear that love is the most important of the three—both faith and hope rely upon love to work. Fortunately, this same passage in Corinthians gives us something of a crib sheet if we’re wondering what that word “love” means.
You see, we use the word ‘love’ to mean a number of different things: I love my sister and I love my wife and I love chocolate, but none of those loves is the same as the others. This isn’t confined to the English language—the original Greek of the New Testament has, according to C.S. Lewis’s reading, four different types of love—conveniently, Greek actually uses different words for those different types of love.
Lewis tells us about storge, the love between people that comes from empathy and familiarity, the kind of love between parents and children. Then there’s philia, the brotherly love that people who share common values or interests. There’s eros, the romantic love of desire. Most important, there’s agape, the kind of self-sacrificial love that God demonstrates for us in the person of Jesus Christ.
In a marriage, you will have storge, you will have philia, and you will have eros. Those things are the rightful and righteous fruits of a marriage to be enjoyed, but they are not sufficient to keep a marriage solid. Only agape can do that.
Fortunately, 1 Corinthians gives us a map of agape. That was the description of love you heard earlier in this service. I won’t repeat it now—you’ve heard it many times before—but I do want to point something out. The things that define love in those passages, they are not feelings, they are not descriptions of conditions, and they don’t just occur. Those things that define love in the passage—patience, kindness, not boasting, humility, truthfulness, perseverance—those things are choices.
And that’s what your marriage vows are really about, about the promise between the two of you to continually choose agape, to choose to love one another and to protect and build your relationship, and not just when it’s easy. Especially when it’s not easy.
But remember that you are not alone. The people here before you have given their word that they will be there to help you when choosing love is difficult. And sometimes it will be.
It is my prayer for you that, through the continuous choice to love one another with that divine and unconditional love you will promise to one another in just a moment, the joy and peace that comes from hope, faith and love will be yours always, based in this moment you are about to share and the words you are about to say.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”